Commissioner Davis continues support of mandatory minimum bill in face of pushback

Not long after Mayor Catherine Pugh, Commissioner Kevin Davis, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack Young," and several members of the city's Annapolis delegation held a press conference to announce a council bill proposing a mandatory minimum one-year sentence for illegal gun convictions, people came out against it.

Councilmembers Kristerfer Burnett, Shannon Sneed, and Ryan Dorsey announced they would not support the bill, and the grassroots activist group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle released an op-ed opposing the measure that on Twitter was retweeted by Councilman Brandon Scott. (Retweets are not endorsements, naturally, but it's still telling.)

In a press conference this afternoon, just before informal debate began on the bill at City Hall, Davis spoke to reporters and reaffirmed his support of the legislation. 

"What this is about is holding accountable the people who illegally carry guns and shoot and kill people in our city," he said. "The folks who are shooting and killing people in our city right now are all in illegal possession of a firearm."

These Baltimoreans are not on their way to the pistol range or an antique gun show, he asserted. They are carrying a gun in their waistband and walking city streets.

Davis referenced 605 illegal gun cases, dating back to 2016, that the BPD compiled and released to the media last week. In all cases, the defendants were found guilty, and 60 percent received suspended sentences, he said.

"That doesn't jive with the expectations of this police department, and more importantly, that doesn't jive with the expectations of this community," he said.

The commissioner said the bill is "not about mass incarceration, it's not about zero tolerance," touting the department's efforts with intervention for drug addicts and people suffering mental crises.

In fact, the commissioner argued, this bill would help keep arrestees safe, since it would prevent them from being released back to the street immediately.

"If they're not gonna pick up a gun and use it, they're gonna have a gun picked up and used against them," he said of the current predicament.

During a particularly interesting moment, he seemed to show himself as a progressive in the area of gun control, calling access to guns "one of the curses of our country." But that access is unlikely to go away.

Carrying a gun, he said, is a decision, and the aim of the bill is to get people to think twice.

"If this one-year mandatory gives them pause, because they know they're going to be held accountable, that will reduce the violence in our city. It's one of the many tools," he said.

He referenced the "conversations taking place around mandatory minimums," dating back to the 1980s and the War on Drugs, and suggested this was different.

"This isn't a drug offense, this is a decision made by someone, and again, carrying a gun is not an addiction," he said.

But as a Baltimore Sun editorial points out, a 2013 federal study concluded that mandatory minimums for gun charges, like their drug counterparts, deliver "weak" results when it comes to reducing crime.

Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle said politicians should be "focusing political capital on proven crime prevention strategies such as investment in anti-violence programs, drug treatment, reentry and workforce development initiatives."

"Correctional policies over time produced the moment that we're in," the op-ed went on to say. "We are literally reproducing another population of hardened formerly incarcerated individuals that are coming back to our communities."

The bill is expected to be introduced at tonight's City Council meeting.

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